'victims ignored'  | 

Son of Troubles victim slams secret Amnesty meetings that left out families

"Secret talks? Not good enough. The British want to bury us with our dead, put us in the ground beside them."
Raymond McCord pictured with Billy McManus in Belfast. Picture By: Arthur Allison/Pacemaker Press.

Raymond McCord pictured with Billy McManus in Belfast. Picture By: Arthur Allison/Pacemaker Press.

Richard Sullivan

Government plans for a Troubles amnesty were drawn up in a series of secret meetings involving church leaders and academics.

Boris Johnson's intention to block any prosecutions for crimes committed during the conflict has drawn a tidal wave of criticism and it is now understood the get-out-of-jail-free scheme was drawn up in a series of contacts which involved republican and loyalist paramilitaries.

The voices of victims were absent from the process.

The Sunday World understands the proposal that those who committed terrorist crimes - including granting killers immunity from prosecution - was first aired during controversial discussions facilitated by the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby at his residence, Lambeth Palace.

Raymond McCord pictured with Brian Smith President of NIPSA. Picture By: Arthur Allison/Pacemaker Press.

Raymond McCord pictured with Brian Smith President of NIPSA. Picture By: Arthur Allison/Pacemaker Press.

So secretive were the talks, convened by the British government, the then First Minister Arlene Foster was not informed they were taking place.

No political leaders from Northern Ireland were invited while victims were also excluded.

UVF commander Winston 'Winkie' Irvine and ex-IRA prisoner Sean 'Spike' Murray were invited as well as a number of academics. Former Presbyterian Moderator the Rev Harold Good was also in attendance.

Veteran UDA chief Jackie McDonald is known to have been invited to Lambeth Palace.

The process has left victims furious at the lack of engagement from the British government. Billy McManus lost his father Willie in the Sean Graham bookies massacre in 1992.

In little over a month it will be 30 years since the UDA raked the Ormeau Road bookmakers shop with gunfire, murdering five people.

"Academics and church leaders have no right to speak for us unless they have been through the hurt and the pain victims have endured," he said.

"The government says we need to move on, draw a line under the past, when they use that sort of language it's hurtful.

"There is something called the law, the rule of law. I want justice for my father and there is unbelievable frustration his killers are still free. They'll be getting ready for Christmas, there'll be an empty chair in my and many others' houses, one less Christmas present to buy."

He said an amnesty would have the opposite effect than that envisaged by the government.

"It will only increase the sense of bitterness. It is hard to see how they think this will help, but then how would they know since they have ignored victims from the start?"

Johnson's proposals as they stand would deny victims any legal recourse, including civil actions, criminal prosecutions and inquests.

"We've had doors slammed in our faces for 30 years, as have the victims of the Shankill bomb. The victims of McGurk's Bar have been waiting 50 years, but we're not going to let them do it again.

"I know who put a bullet in my father's head, but I want them to stand in court and admit what they did, apologise, whatever, it's called justice.

"I don't want to live like this for the rest of my life, I want my life back, I want to be able to tell my mummy what happened to her husband, that's not too much to ask."

He described the proposed legislation as "inhuman".

"I signed up to the Good Friday Agreement it was hard to us to watch killers walk free from jail, but we did for the good, we didn't sign up for an amnesty.

"Secret talks? Not good enough. The British want to bury us with our dead, put us in the ground beside them."

Billy is part of the Truth and Justice Movement, recently set by a number of victims who have lost loved ones to the IRA, UVF, UDA, the British Army, RUC and dissidents.

They have taken the fight against the amnesty to the heart of government, picketing the House of Commons and delivering a petition to 10 Downing Street.

They have drawn support from across Ireland. Uniquely 11 political parties, North and South, signed a declaration of opposition.

They have the backing of the Labour Party and now the trade union movement.

Founder member Raymond McCord also hit out at secret talks that exclude victims.

"The victims' voices are not being heard where they should," he said.

"The churches have done nothing for victims, they and the government would rather reach out to drug dealers and killers than engage with victims.

"The state has made us feel that we are on our own, ignore us and we'll go away."

He said secret talks involving paramilitary representatives can never deliver for victims.

"I condemn the secret Lambeth Palace talks between churchmen, academics, and loyalist and republican representatives, again we have a selected group of people who believe in excluding victims from talks about victims and dealing with the past. Disgraceful."

He said political unity had been achieved in opposing the plans but he said victims groups remain divided.

"All victims need to come together to stop these amnesty proposals. I asked both SEFF (South East Fermanagh Foundation) and RFJ (Relatives For Justice) to support us and give us letters of support in rejecting the proposals. Neither did so."

He said all victims must be treated equally rather than separated as victims of loyalist, republican or state violence.

In a separate development Brian Smith President of the NI Public Service Alliance (NIPSA) said he believed the trade union movement was supportive of the Truth and Justice Movement campaign.

He said listening to victims' stories at a recent event in Belfast had "opened my eyes".

"I didn't know, I thought I did but I didn't, the level of brutality of these murders, and the sheer emotion of it. It was hard to listen to.

"The dignity and passion of those people, you can not help but be moved."

He is confident the Irish Congress of Trade Unions will back the declaration and believes the giant unions in Britain will also come on board.

"As a trade union we have a voice, and we want to use it to support victims, help get their truth. We all have to realise that justice is not sectarian or political, it is a basic right."

He added that he believed trade unions across Europe and across the Atlantic in the States would be supportive.

"That's millions of members. Johnson has to hear from working-class people and their opposition to this."


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